In August 2014, author Jeremy Freeborn interviewed four-time Olympic champion and seven-time world champion hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser for The Canadian Encyclopedia (via e-mail exchange). Wickenheiser, a native of Shaunavon, Saskatchewan, is considered by many the greatest women’s hockey player in the history of the Olympic Winter Games and one of the best in the history of the sport. Wickenheiser wrote the responses below shortly after her third trip to Africa, where she volunteered with the Right to Play organization.
HW: Playing the boys did bring some challenges, but honestly it was mostly the parents of my teammates, not my teammates themselves. My parents did a great job of shielding me from most of it, but I still saw the resentment come through at times despite their best efforts. However, I don’t resent those experiences and hold no grudges at all. Those were opportunities to learn something about myself, my resilience and my determination to keep going.
JF: You had your first Olympic experience at the age of 19. What do you remember most about Nagano and was there anything specific you learned from your teammates that year that helped you lead Canada to four consecutive gold medals from 2002 to 2014?
HW: If you spend your preparation years building good habits that become second nature, you don’t have to think about what you are doing, you can be more focused on reacting to the play and the momentum of the game.
JF: Tell me about your first gold medal in 2002 and the challenge the team faced in having to kill off eight consecutive penalties in the championship game.
HW: Yes, that was certainly memorable, to say the least. The approach was the same as it has always (or at least, often) been: stick with the game plan — it will see you through if you prepared enough.
JF: In 2006, Canada defeated Sweden to win Olympic hockey gold. You led the tournament with 17 points. Was there one point you remember the most?
HW: Honestly, what I remember most was not seeing the USA in the final. It was a major surprise.
JF: How gratifying was it to win the gold medal in Canada in 2010?
HW: Obviously, because it was on home soil there was something particularly rewarding. But there is something “special” about each and every game.
JF: In 2014, the Canadian depth in women’s hockey was evident as Marie-Philip Poulin scored two dramatic goals, leading Canada to a victory over the United States in the Olympic final. How important is it for you to now see a younger generation of women’s hockey players shine on the international stage?
HW: It is an immense honour to have watched the evolution of the female game from the inside. I know that Hockey Canada really works to have a good mix of veterans for experience and young players for energy as they move forward each year. That bodes well for the game, for sure.
HW: I take these journeys year by year but know in my heart what I want. I am not done playing the game. I think I still have things both on and off the ice that I can contribute and I will just know when it’s time. I still love ABSOLUTELY nothing more than being in an arena and being an athlete. It is a fortunate existence.
JF: Outside of hockey, you have plans to enter the medical profession. Is that still a primary goal of yours and what is it about medical science that interests you the most?
HW: I do plan to pursue medicine. I think the allure is partially the adrenaline junkie in me. You have make quick decisions, work as part of a team and your work is different every day – every minute of every day. Sounds a lot like what I do now!